HL Deb 22 March 1988 vol 495 cc87-9

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What provision they will make in each of the next four years to create new employment in areas affected by pit closures.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Government provide assistance to coal mining areas affected by pit closures through a variety of measures, including the enterprise initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry, the retraining and other programmes of the Manpower Services Commission, the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies, and the urban programme. There is also British Coal Enterprise Ltd. which has the specific aim of helping to create jobs and job opportunities in coal mining areas.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that British Coal Enterprise Ltd. is failing to provide alternative employment to the extent that, in the coalfields, the operation is regarded with the utmost cynicism and many consider it to be a confidence trick? The Government and BCE are constantly telling us about their huge success in providing alternative jobs. Therefore why are they refusing to provide the number of jobs which have been lost in the coalfields?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, my information is quite different from that of the noble Lord. There is no evidence to show that the activities of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. have been other than totally honest and sincere in assisting job creation.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is it not a fact that, in addition to the number of jobs created, it is extremely important that the right kind of jobs should be created? Is the Minister aware that in the past some of the jobs which have been provided are more suitable for the wives of miners than for the miners themselves? Can he say whether that fact is taken on board by British Coal Enterprise Ltd. because we need jobs in the manufacturing industries in those areas?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is right in that respect and I shall draw her remarks to the attention of the chairman of British Coal.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the northern region, where we have had and continue to have pit closures, in February of last year our regional unemployment rate was 16½ per cent.; while in February this year it was 13½ per cent. and is still falling? Will he continue to encourage those policies which have brought a large number of new much needed industries to the northern region?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his remarks and I shall pass them on to my right honourable friend.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the decline in the number of people employed in the coal industry has been a major problem for successive governments? Is he aware that when I was Secretary of State for Wales the number of people employed in the South Wales coalfields was approximately 50,000, while today it is fewer than 10,000, which demonstrates the size of the problem? Can the noble Viscount indicate how many people have been employed in new industries in the South Wales coalfield area?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I do not have the figures in front of me. However, British Coal Enterprise Ltd. has already done much to help to create alternative employment opportunities in the coalfield areas, and that shows that the Government are right to respond to the special needs of the coalfields by the formation of this company.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that since 1985 68 pits have closed; that 82,000 men have been declared redundant in Wales, Scotland and Northern England; and that although British Enterprise Ltd. is creating some jobs, it is only scratching the surface? What do Her Majesty's Government and the Department of Trade and Industry intend to do in order to alleviate the mass unemployment in the North of between 17 per cent. and 20 per cent'? I refer especially to the glamorous new department—the Department for Enterprise.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the new DTI national schemes of support are available throughout the coalfields. A number of coalfields are located in assisted areas where the DTI's regional financial support schemes operate.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, has the noble Viscount noted the remarks made by his right honourable friend Mr. Michael Heseltine over redevelopment in the South-East? He has changed his mind since he was Secretary of State. Would it not meet Mr. Heseltine's point if some of the overdevelopment which has taken place in the South-East instead took place in the coalfields?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, that is a very interesting point but it is rather outside the original Question. I did not know that there had been many pit closures in the South-East.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, in commenting on the reply given by the Minister I should like to point out that I did not suggest that British Coal Enterprise Ltd. is dishonest. Does the Minister not agree that, in the light of £30 million plus having been provided to British Coal Enterprise Ltd., it should not be afraid to reveal the statistics? Does that not show some guilt that it is not providing the jobs in the coalfield areas, as my noble friend says?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that commercial confidentiality precludes British Coal Enterprise from disclosing publicly details of individual loans.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, does not the Minister know that two out of three pits are being closed in the South-East of England?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful for that information.